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Cool heads needed for hot topics

Feather Publishing
8/22/2012

 

As the county struggles to somehow close a nearly $1.9 million-gap in the county’s fiscal 2012 – 13 budget, it seems clear that more employee concessions are going to be needed.

We’re sure the county workforce feels the way many private employees do, as this recession drags on (no, we don’t buy the “expert” opinion that it’s over): they’re being asked to do more with fewer resources for less pay and fewer benefits.

We’re equally sure county supervisors are up against a wall. They have few places left to cut other than employee pay and benefits. As interim budget officer Susan Scarlett has said, “Personnel is the bulk of the expenditures. Payroll is always a huge part (of the county budget).”

But the shouting match that erupted between county safety officer Pat Bonnett and supervisor Jon Kennedy during last week’s board meeting isn’t going to do anyone any good.

The exchange began when Kennedy suggested Bonnett’s duties no longer constituted a full-time job.

“Who’s going to take care of your safety program, Mr. Kennedy? ... You?” Bonnett said.

“You want to go there?” Kennedy responded.

“Bring it on,” Bonnett shouted back. “You want to call a recess?”

Yes, tension and feelings are running high. But when you’re dealing with something as serious as people’s livelihoods some decorum is in order. “Alright you guys. Let’s be civil,” Supervisor Lori Simpson told Kennedy and Bonnett. We couldn’t agree more.

Cool heads and good negotiating skills are in order here. It’s likely that health benefits will be on the table, as will retirement plans. Scarlett recommended that the county explore both: She stressed the need for the county to institute a two-tiered retirement plan for new employees and said the county needed to “shop around” for a cheaper health insurance plan.

Another area where the county should seek concessions is in its sick leave policy. The Plumas County Grand Jury honed in on this, and the current scandal in the state parks department highlights the potential pitfalls of employees being able to accrue unlimited sick or vacation time.

There should be a cap on accrued sick and vacation time, and a use-it-or-lose-it provision. Accrued sick or vacation time should be used for the intended purposes — not to pad a longtime employee’s retirement.

But getting to any kind of agreement about all this is going to take some finesse — not verbal sparring. Supervisor Simpson gets it. “I don’t think you could do either of those instantaneously. There are labor issues involved,” she said at last week’s board meeting. “I’m going to speak from personal experience as a labor negotiator: One of the most important issues to the employees is their health insurance. And employees are not going to give up (insurance) they like unless (the new insurance) provides good coverage. There are people who have existing conditions. It’s a very important issue to them.”

May cooler heads like hers prevail.

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